A Seed for All Seasons

Indian breadroot (Pediomelum esculentum) has been used on the prairies for centuries, for both food and trade, and was identified by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. There are many different species, all native to North America (from Florida to northern Alberta). It has lovely bluish-purple, pea-shaped flowers in June and July, densely clustered on stems that are covered with white, silky hairs. A short plant, only 10-30 cm tall, it looks like a stunted lupine. Its scientific name esculentum means edible and refers to the thick tuberous root—the feature that made this plant important to all people who lived on the plains. The root is rich in starch and sugar, and was eaten raw, roasted, sun-dried and ground into meal to mix with other foods. When air-dried, the tubers can be stored indefinitely. Indian breadroom was probably the most important vegetable in the diets of Northern Plains tribes.

It has an interesting way of spreading its seeds: when they are mature, the plant’s stem breaks off at ground level and blows away like tumbleweed, disbursing the seeds. The plant vanishes until the next spring.

A location on the Blood Reserve is called Wild Turnip Hill or Turnip Butte because Indian breadroot grows very well on the sandy, well drained soil. An area near Cowley, Alberta was known to the Blackfoot as Many Prairie Turnips. The Cree also gathered the roots, and early European travellers and settlers called it pomme de prairie or prairie potato. For a time in the early 1800s, it was cultivated experimentally in France as a substitute for potatoes.

Despite the wintery air now if an excellent time to start planting. The Galt Museum Gift Shop offers a wide variety of seeds that will make the perfect gift for the gardeners in your life.